30.January.2012: The Sundance Film Festival came to a close Sunday, with upwards of 25 awards handed out Saturday night. You can see the full results as live-blogged by Eric Hynes and Clairborne Smith. No big surprise that the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic film went to Beasts of the Southern Wild, the most unanimously praised debut of the festival by some distance. Perhaps the most meaningful critical approval came from Manohla Dargis’s festival wrap-up for The New York Times: “The standout of this year’s Sundance and among the best films to play at the festival in two decades, Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t an obvious studio-dependent title. Directed by Benh Zeitlin, who wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, the film is a magical realist tale, as well as a hero’s journey, set in a gloriously mythologized part of southern Louisiana nicknamed the Bathtub.” The film’s cinematographer, Ben Richardson, also won an award.
Moving to documentary winners, Sundance veteran Eugene Jarecki took home the Grand Jury prize for his critique of the War on Drugs, The House I Live In. The Law in These Parts, a film about the Israeli occupation which already won a prize at the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival, took home the World Cinema Jury Prize here. Eyal Press wrote extensively about it for The New York Review of Books blog last week: “Surprisingly little is known about the legal apparatus that has enabled and structured the occupation. Filmed in nine days but based on years of archival research, The Law in These Parts aims to expose it.” The Audience Award for US Documentary went to The Invisible War, by all accounts an alarming indictment of rape in the US military. Currently streaming at Fandor is director Kirby Dick’s earlier documentary, Private Parts, about sexual surrogacy, a hot topic at this year’s festival because of The Surrogate, which won the Audience Award for US Dramatic, a Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting, and a sweet distribution deal from Fox Searchlight. Star John Hawke talks with Vulture’s Jada Yuan about his third Sundance hit in a row (following Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene). Musical subjects ruled two other notable winners: Andrés Wood’s biopic of Chilean folklorist Violeta Parra, Violeta Went to Heaven, won the World Cinema Jury Prize in the dramatic category, while Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man, about Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez, won the World Cinema Audience Award for documentary.
Before moving on to the International Film Festival Rotterdam and Berlinale, it’s worth pausing over two distinctive articles published in the Los Angeles Review of Books this past weekend: Jonathan Penner’s expansive interview with David Cronenberg (“As a young upstart filmmaker I felt that you were not a real filmmaker if you didn’t write your own stuff and it should be original…”) and, relevant to Sundance, Jonathan Zimmerman personal critique of Steve Boman’s triumphal memoir about attending USC film school. Zimmeran attended USC himself and honestly weighs the vicissitudes and compensations of life in film school: “Today, while film schools remain seductive, they have dropped the grit and doubled down on the glamour; their sharp edges have been carefully filed off and their values have been kid-tested, mother-approved. The still prevailing myth of the film-student-as-rebel obscures the banal truth: These are highly profitable institutions, buttressed by a wildly irresponsible student loan system preying on thousands of starry-eyed individuals all vying for ‘their shot.’”